Cagayan townsfolk up in arms vs Ceza casinos
SANTA ANA, Cagayan–Officials and residents of this coastal town on Friday aired their protest against the alleged environmental destruction cause by the unregulated operations of online casinos within the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport here.
In a public dialogue, they assailed the supposed failure of the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (Ceza) to check on the alleged illegal dumping of garbage and sewage water from two casino complexes, which, they said, has been polluting the town’s surrounding water bodies.
“The people of Santa Ana have long complained about these problems but our calls have not been heeded. It is painful for us to see that these things are happening because this is not what we envisioned (the freeport zone) to be,” said former town councilor Jomar Castillo.
Friday’s dialogue between church leaders, locals and Ceza officials was arranged amid mounting complaints from residents over the supposed worsening environmental condition of Santa Ana due to wastes produced by the operations of SunCity Holiday and Leisure Resort in San Vicente village and the Eastern Hawaii Casino Park in Barangay Centro.
Both complexes house scores of online gambling facilities, which has attracted thousands of players from mostly Asia.
Though operating via the internet, the casinos have been hosting thousands of foreign tourists who are commonly agents of wealthy players who visit the casino and stay at first-class villas here for as long one week, local sources said.
The influx of the tourists, as well as scores of Chinese workers, have caused a waste disposal problem for Santa Ana, earning the ire of its residents.
Ceza officials who attended the dialogue apologized to the residents for the problems that have been caused by the casinos, but assured them that their office was trying its best to find solutions to these.
Julian Jovy Gonzales, officer in charge of the Ceza field office here, admitted that the foul odor emanating from water discharged by the treatment plants could have been due to a technical malfunction.
“But we would like to assure you that this water that are discharged from the treatment plants are not toxic and do not cause any harmful effects on the environment,” he told officials and residents who attended Friday’s dialogue at the town’s gyumnasium.
But Castillo dismissed Gonzales’ claim, as he expressed exasperation that despite the residents’ repeated calls for Ceza to act on the matter, field officials gave them a uniform reply that they were supposedly “working on it”.
On Friday morning, this writer witnessed the release of foul-smelling waste water from the SunCity casino and into a lagoon in Barangay Tangatan here.
Since the casino was constructed, residents living around the lagoon have stopped using it to raise freshwater tilapia, which they either consume or sell at nearby villages.
The casinos have likewise been reported by witnesses to be supposedly dumping sewage water into the municipal waters of Santa Ana, which forms part of the Babuyan Channel in northern Cagayan.
“Not only are our people complaining about the foul smell and the water pollution, but more importantly, they have noted the destruction of seaweeds near the shores of Santa Ana which is a breeding ground for the fishes,” said Jeremias Costales, town councilor.
Gonzales, however, cautioned the residents against immediately blaming the casinos, saying further tests have yet to be made to determine whether or not pollution from the casino complexes has been the cause of the decrease of marine life in the area.
Rene Almoradie, village chair of Tangatan, urged the conduct of an “honest-to-goodness” inspection of the casinos’ treatment facilities, amid suspicion that obnoxious waste water being dumped into the lagoon was causing pollution to the lake.
The estimated two-hectare lagoon used to be a rich source of marine life as a communal fishpond for about 100 families in the area, Almoradie said.